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World Music CD Reviews, September 2007

Album of the Month

gipsy.cz - romano hip hop

Gipsy.cz: Romano Hip Hop

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video: Romano Hip Hop

Rapper Radoslav Banga, aka Gipsy, takes modern Roma music to a new level, blending traditional music and instruments with pumped-up beats and his rapid-fire rapping. Easily one of the most enjoyable global albums of the year, Romano Hip Hop has already won a slew of awards and spent months in the World Music Charts Europe. And for good reason.

Gipsy, violinist Vojta Lavicka, accordionist Petr Surmaj and his bassist brother Jan Surmaj make a glorious sound. Catchy as pop-laden commercial hip hop, Gipsy's music comes with the extra appeal of tradition-rooted melodies made modern. Sure, his attitudinal boasting (some in English) comes off a bit simplistic but his delivery is solid. Besides, after generations of oppression, the Roma community is due a little cultural pride. So crank up this album, and you'll soon agree that these gipsy kids can get u down. Highly recommended!

©2007 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

THIS JUST IN! ... New World Music CD Releases


Extra Golden: Hera Ma Nono (Thrill Jockey)
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Kenyan-American group Extra Golden -- a real group, not a political action committee -- is two benga musicians from Kenya (Opiyo Bilongo and Onyango Wuod Omari) paired with two indie-rockers from Washington DC (Alex Minoff and Ian Eagleson). The resulting sound is a curious mix of African vocals and melodies and Congo-rumba-style guitar along with various touches of old-school rock, funk, and a hint of Motown.

Included on this, their sophomore album, is a song called "Obama" -- prompted in part by the group's gratitude to the Senator from Illinois for helping secure visas for the Kenyan musicians.Other songs include the mournful country slide guitar of "I Miss You," which could be a country-music tear jerker but for the African lyrics. The DC boys take over on the tribute to New Orleans "Street Parade," a straight-ahead rocker with just a hint of Kenya in the shimmering guitar. Closing the album is the title track "Hera Ma Nono" (meaning "love in vain") -- in which a husband tells how his wife said she was going to see her brother, but he suspects otherwise. For much more about Kenyan benga, rumba, and Swahili music, check out Doug Paterson's article on Kenyan music.

Don't Be a Stranger: One (self-released)
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The group Don't Be a Stranger might as well be called Onno Krijn and Friends. Krijn is a Dutch composer/producer who has recorded a slew of great musicians from around the planet, and on this CD he takes some of those recordings and adds his own touches. The result is a global mix of styles from Africa (Senegal, Ethiopia), Iraq, Asia (India, Tibet, Indonesia) Scotland, the USA, and the Netherlands that has reviewers using words like brilliant, hypnotic, and astounding. I can't disagree.

Yildirim Levent: Neverland Fusion (Le Chant du Monde)
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Dumbek rock. That's the first impression when you pop this CD in and hear the finger-rolls of "Half Mind" give way to a progressive rock-band sound. In place of the guitar, however, you've got Ismail Tunebilek's electric baglama. Over bass and drum programming soar the traditional acoustic instruments of Levent's native Turkey: oud, violin, ney, riqq, kanun. Levent strikes a teetering balance between the electronic and the acoustic -- the result is more more Shakti than Tabla Beat Science, with danceable tunes ("Je m'amuse," "Septembre a Pompignac," "Ritim Saz"), contemplative tracks ("Neverland Fusion," "No End"), and some with a bit of everything ("Half Mind," "Kamalesh"). Nice to have an enjoyable, forward-looking Turkish release from someone besides Mercan Dede. Includes a DVD with one short (6-minute) but impressive percussion video, though the menu is defective and the DVD wouldn't play in my computer.

Anoushka Shankar & Karsh Kale: Breathing Under Water (Blue Note)
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Wonder what Daddy Shankar thinks... Oh sure, he contributes to two tracks on this album ("Oceanic" parts 1 and 2), but even Ravi the great collaborator might consider this album kind of out there. Noah Lambersky's vocals on "Burn" sound like a lost Sting pop song...wait, turns out Sting did the arrangement! (He also takes lead vocals on "Sea Dreamer.") Norah Jones joins her sister on "Easy," which is a little too easy for my ears and which suffers from incomprehensible lyrics -- in English!

Other tunes also veer firmly along the Highway to Pop, though in theory I should like them because of the Indian instrumentation that pervades the album. The Bollywood-esque "Ghost Story" featuring vocals by Sunidhi Chauhan and the Bombay Cinematic Orchestra is among my favorites, as is "A Perfect Rain" with dynamic vocals by Shankar Mahadevan. But overall I find this album a little puzzling -- it's not exactly the Indian fusion of Anoushka's Rise, nor the dance electronica favored by Kale. I guess I'd call it ambient acoustic-electronic world fusion, but that doesn't mean I'll be calling on it often.

©2007 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



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